Friday, March 04, 2011

Want to see some weird kids doing a song? (I Get Paid For Doing This)

I am currently eating rice cakes with peanut butter, an early lunch because I was hungry, before I go back to work on a brief that I probably won't finish today because I got distracted by Edith Zimmerman's blog archives, which included a link to this:

Which is my favorite thing of the day. I want to teach Mr F and Mr Bunches to do that. But I need to get Sweetie out of the house for a few hours first or she'll interfere.

This is open government in Wisconsin. (Publicus Proventus)

Wisconsin Constitution, Article IV, §10:

Journals; open doors; adjournments. Each house shall keep a journal of its proceedings and publish the same, except such parts as require secrecy. The doors of each house shall be kept open except when the public welfare shall require secrecy. Neither house shall, without consent of the other, adjourn for more than three days.

Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law:

19.81 Declaration of policy.

(1) In recognition of the fact that a representative government of the American type is dependent upon an informed electorate, it is declared to be the policy of this state that the public is entitled to the fullest and most complete information regarding the affairs of government as is compatible with the conduct of governmental business.

(2) To implement and ensure the public policy herein expressed, all meetings of all state and local governmental bodies shall be publicly held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public and shall be open to all citizens at all times unless otherwise expressly provided by law.

On my way back from a court hearing today, I cut through the Capitol building, something I do routinely, because I like to walk through there. I had no business in the Capitol other than enjoying the way it looks, and wanting to stay out of the drizzle.

To get in, I was reminded by signs on the door that carrying a weapon into the building is a crime; those handmade signs were new.

I then had to empty my pockets and consent to have my briefcase searched and have a metal detector waved over me.

I then walked past the 20 or so police officers doing that to find another group of police officers standing outside the rotunda, where a group of protesters was -- I'm not making this up -- being reminded by an organizer to be polite to the police there.

On my way out, I had to go past another group of 10 or so police officers, one of whom escorted me to a designated exit.

Outside, I saw yet more police officers -- outside the Capitol they outnumber protesters 2-to-1 -- and a K9 unit van, and I walked past this quote on the steps:

The full quote is this:

These are the values inspiring those brave workers in Poland ... They remind us that where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost.

That was said by Ronald Reagan, in his Labor Day address in 1980.

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Another non-sarcastic ACTUAL BUDGET SOLUTION to a crisis that doesn't exist. (Publicus Proventus)

If we're near, in Wisconsin, a "Constitutional Crisis" as the Daley-Family-Wannabe Fitzgeralds insist, it's not because of the 14 Democrats who are refusing to pretend that democracy works when run by lying power-grabbers working for the Koch brothers; if there is such a crisis, it's because the Governor Patsy administration increasingly is ignoring Constitutional rules while making up a fictitious fiscal problem and refusing to consider reasonable solutions -- such as the one I'll propose herein -- to solve minor financial dilemmas.

First the Constitutional problems: The Fitzgerald Clan, more like a criminal gang than a political dynasty (that's what you get when hicks discover patronage) has helped authorize the detention -- not arrest, the GOP loves its wordplay -- of the missing 14 Senators, ignoring Article 4, Sec. 15 of the Wisconsin Constitution, which protects legislators from civil or criminal arrest. (The GOP is well aware of this privilege, using it to keep girl-punchers in power in Arizona).

More seriously, and posing more long-term problems but as yet largely unremarked, is Governor Patsy's proposal to shift $1.2 million in funding from the Department of Public Instruction, whose head is independently elected and a Constitutional officer, and therefore not subject to Governor Patsy's direct control; the law requires that DPI, not the administrators appointed by Governor Patsy, direct education... but Governor Patsy evidently believes that "the law is an ass," or at least that voters are, because he's just barging ahead anyway and nobody's paying attention.

There are, as I've pointed out before, long-term structural budget fixes that DON'T require shredding the constitution and transferring power to Governor Patsy, let alone don't require cutting government services that don't need to be cut.

We don't overspend, we underspend, and cutting taxes is counterproductive. Here's why:

Let's assume that government is costing too much, and let's assume that Governor Patsy cuts out all waste and all overspending. Let's, in fact, assume he slashes government spending by 50%, so that beginning in 2012 we live in a paradise where our now-lower taxes exactly match the government spending that is at the exact right level and which features no waste or fraud whatsoever.

That's great, right?

What happens next?

Nobody in charge of the let's cut all spending and all taxes forever hurrah governing parties --which includes both Democrats and Wife-Beating/Child Killing Republicans -- has thought that far, but I have and here's what happens next:

What happens next is 2013 comes, and prices rise. The cost of living inevitably goes up, because that's inflation and it always happens. So, your government, perfectly priced and perfectly budgeted in 2012, is going to cost a bit more in 2013.

What will you do then?

Cut more spending to avoid raising taxes? But the hypothetical says that government spending is perfect: we're at the right level in 2012, so if you cut spending in 2013, you cut essential services.

And if you do that to balance the budget without raising taxes in 2013, cutting into services you thought were essential in 2012, essential and perfectly priced, what happens in 2014? And 2015?

If you never raise taxes and only cut spending, eventually you will have no further spending to cut, and that means you will have no government services. And shut up, Tea Party Morons, because no government means no police, no roads, no fire departments, no health inspectors... no society.

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. But we're not angels and we need to pay taxes and as long as the price of living rises, so will taxes.

But here's yet another fix that I, as a lawyer and blogger, have thought up but nobody in power has thought up yet because they're not thinking about this the right way.

Here's the fix, and it's painless, or very nearly so:

Raise personal income taxes by 3% on everyone in Wisconsin...

... bear with me here...

.. and then provide a deduction from income for Wisconsin taxes on federal government income taxes.

Right now, Wisconsin does not provide a tax credit or deduction for federal taxes paid -- not so far as I can find, anyway -- which means you're taxed, in Wisconsin, on income used to pay federal taxes. (Mostly; Wisconsin uses Federal AGI, which is your gross income less certain deductions, but those deductions do not include taxes paid to the federal government.)

Changing that will let Wisconsin taxpayers actually benefit. Right now, in Wisconsin, the top income tax rate is 7.75% on incomes exceeding $220,000. I'll use simple math and assume that the tax is 7.75% on 200,000 income, or $15,500.

With no deductions for anything else, the tax on that $200,000 at the federal level is $49,000 or so. So let's stick with a simple example: The Hypothetical Taxpayer here makes $200,000, and pays the federal government $49,000 of that. He then has $151,000 in income left, but Wisconsin taxes him at $200,000, and he pays $15,500 of that to Wisconsin, leaving him with $135,500 of after-tax income.

Under my plan, with an income deduction for federal taxes paid, that same Hypothetical Taxpayer would pay, with a 3% higher top rate, $21,500 to Wisconsin -- $6,000 more in revenues to our state.

That seems like a loss -- but it's not, because the federal government lets you deduct state taxes from income -- so the Hypothetical Taxpayer doesn't pay the US the same $49,000. Instead, his federal taxable income, after deducting the (now-higher) Wisconsin taxes, is $178,500, so he'll pay only about $41,000 to the federal government.

His ultimate tax burden is $62,500 (or so) under my plan, with about 1/3 of that going to the great state of Wisconsin, while his ultimate tax burden under current law is $64,500, with less than 1/4 of the money going to Wisconsin.

In other words, under current law, the GOP is okay with more of your money going to Washington, while you get less state services; under my plan, most people would see a tax decrease without any reduction in government services.

Why isn't anybody talking about this?

I understand there's some jiggering of the math to do -- because Wisconsin can't know what the federal income-less-taxes is until the Wisconsin state tax exemption is calculated -- but that could be worked out by allowing deductions this year for last year's federal taxes, so it's not an insurmountable hurdle, and the bottom line is that by allowing deductions from Wisconsin taxable income for federal taxes paid will have the effect of letting Wisconsin residents pay a greater percentage of their taxes to Wisconsin than to the federal government -- increasing Wisconsin's tax base without any harm to the taxpayers.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Bad Republican Update: Scott Bundgaard is a liar AND an abuser. (And, ladies, HE'S SINGLE!)(Publicus Proventus)

Republicans, who would like you to die in the streets because you disagree with them, also feel free to lie to the press about whether or not they punched their girlfriend in the chest, and other Republicans will then defend them.

Scott Bundgaard, Arizona Republican/woman hater, was reported late last week to have been involved in a domestic incident. Bundgaard (shown at right with a woman he was probably thinking of punching when the picture was taken), denied the charges.

Unfortunately for Bundgaard, the police actually investigated the incident and unfortunately-er, they allowed the report to be released to the public.

That report shows that someone had made an emergency call about "a male throwing a female onto the ground," with the male turning out to be Future Wife Beater Scott Bundgaard.

Bundgaard, who will probably beat his children someday, too, claimed to police that he was trying to put his girlfriend back into the car, but he forgot to mention that during the fight inside the car, he'd "used his right arm in a swinging motion and hit Ms. Ballard [the girlfriend] over her chest... twice." Leaving bruises.

Oh, and he forgot to mention that he took the woman's phone and threw it out the window to keep her from calling for help.

He also left out that he'd pushed her to the ground twice, after locking her out of the car.

That all directly contradicts all the lies Bundgaard told the press and his constituents after being arrested and then freed -- did I mention that Bundgaard told the press he didn't want special treatment, but that the report shows he told them he couldn't be arrested because of his position? -- but it's not like he did something really bad, like try to get health care for poor people, so I'm sure he'll be re-elected by a landslide in Arizona -- probably on a platform of "I beat up my girlfriend, I'll beat up some illegal immigrants, too."

How can I say that? Simple: Bundgaard's being defended by other Republican wife-beaters, including the Arizona Senate President, who called Bundgaard a "victim." Pearce knows something about victimization, having once grabbed his wife by the throat to throw her down (throwing a woman to the ground ought to be known as The Arizona Waltz).

I'm waiting for the Attorney General to announce how he's going to begin complying with the law... should I hold my breath? (Publicus Proventus)

Not everything in Wisconsin boils down to the Wisconsin Governor violating the Constitution and open meetings laws in a desire to not get heckled; sometimes it's Attorney General J.B. "Van" Hollen who's going to disregard a judge's orders and federal law.

Or so I assume, since I haven't yet heard an official announcement that Wisconsin is going to start implementing "ObamaCare," even though a federal judge just ruled that states must follow the law. And not just any federal judge -- the federal judge who just issued an order requiring states to implement ObamaCare is the same judge who ruled it unconstitutional:
U.S. District Court Judge Roger Vinson issued a stay of his own ruling at the end of January that found the federal health overhaul violates the Constitution. ....Vinson writes that the ...the federal government, showed: the 'significant disruption' and 'wide-ranging and indeterminate consequences' that could result if implementation of the entire Act must stop immediately, and, upon review and consideration of these arguments, I agree that it would indeed be difficult to enjoin and halt the Act's implementation while the case is pending appeal. It would be extremely disruptive and cause significant uncertainty. So a stay is justified, Vinson decides.

(Source.) If you remember, it took "Van" Hollen about 0.000032 seconds after Vinson's initial ruling to announce that Wisconsin wouldn't implement ObamaCare. Let's keep the clock ticking on how long it'll take to convene a press conference for "Van" to set out what steps the state will be taking to comply with this court's order.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Grasshopper and the Ice Cream (Thinking The Lions)

I talk a lot on here, now, about the twins and the trials and tribulations of raising them.

But you should not forget that Sweetie and I also have older children, older children who aren't children at all any more because they're all over the age of 18, but who still somehow end up needing almost constant attention, and can derail an entire day by making me prove a point, as Oldest did yesterday, when I got home a little early from a trial and was looking forward to relaxing for a bit, maybe going jogging at the club and then, possibly, getting to finish up the book The Infinities, which I'm going to tell you I'm only finishing because Sweetie goaded me into it and because according to my Kindle I'm 88% of the way through it, and you can't quit on a book 88% of the way through it.

That's Oldest, helping
Mr F eat some french fries.
Mr Bunches and I are looking down at
her from inside a playland. The reason
this picture is here will eventually be explained.

Can you?

I didn't get to do any of that last night, including not getting to answer the question of whether a book can truly become so bad that with only 10% of it left to read, I might actually stop reading it. I didn't get to do that because instead Oldest called with a crisis

Oldest has been in a crisis for a week, or for 24 years, depending on how you're counting; the current iteration of the crisis has to do with the fact that her car busted a belt and it'll cost $3,000 to fix it; Oldest doesn't have $3,000 and has been going through all kinds of contortions and schemes to get a new car, something that's made more complicated by the fact that she doesn't actually have a driver's license right now, for reasons that are too long to go into in this post.

I became aware that Oldest was having a crisis when, after my trial ended early, and ended, too, decently enough that I would get to spend the 2+ hour drive home enjoying myself and listening to This American Life and eating cold pizza instead of spending the 2+ hour drive home fuming or fretting or reiterating things that had gone badly at the trial; the long drive home from a trial that has turned out poorly is the lawyer's version of the walk of shame, only I don't carry my shoes in my hands, and while I probably still would have ate the cold pizza, I wouldn't have enjoyed it as much, and I certainly wouldn't have begun the drive by actually eating the apple that I had in my lunch, too. When something goes wrong during the day, that apple, or vegetable, or whatever other sop I'm making to my health, is generally the first to go, and it's likely that had the trial not gone as well as it did, I'd have simply tossed the apple out the window and focused on the pizza while trying to distract myself from how badly the trial had gone.

As it was, I was in a good mood, it was earlier than I'd expected, the roads were fine, I had podcasts a-plenty on my iPod to listen to, and thus I set out on the drive in high spirits, spirits which lasted until I turned on my cell phone and got bombarded with messages that Oldest had left me: voicemails and at least two texts asking me to please call her please.

It was the double please that really put me on edge. Oldest doesn't call me in the first place; it's not like she just calls up and says "Hey, how's it going?" She's 24, and we have little in common beyond being part of the same family. So when she calls me, period, it's usually because something's going wrong. The calls almost always start like this:

Me: Hello.

Oldest [grimly, in a monotone]: Hey.

Me: What's going on?

Oldest [even more monotonedly, with an extra slab of grim on it]: I have to ask you a question.

The question is never... thank God... actually as serious as it sounds like it's going to be after that introduction. It never begins with something really ominous like "So I was googling how to dismember a corpse..." or "Did you know that there were not one, but two heavy metal bands staying in a hotel near my apartment?" or anything like that. Instead, it usually revolves around one of three topics:

1. Oldest needing money, and assuring me that eventually she's going to enroll in school.

2. Oldest needing money really badly, and assuring me that eventually she's going to enroll in school, or

3. Oldest asking me if she can sue somebody, which I take as a sign that she needs money and which I refuse to answer until she assures me that eventually she's going to enroll in school.

Put simply, Oldest always needs money, and Oldest, up until the current car crisis, has always found money, in the most serendipitous of ways. Seriously: I have on many, many occasions told Oldest that she needs to attend church far more often than she actually does, because she really owes God a lot of favors. In that sense, Oldest is the exact opposite of The Boy, who obviously has irritated The Universe so much that The Universe now has it in for The Boy.

Oldest has always come into money at the most opportune of times, thereby preventing me and/or God/The Universe from ever teaching her a lesson about the desirability of saving money and planning for a rainy day.

Remember the story of The Grasshopper and The Ants, and how the Grasshopper parties all summer while the Ants worked, and eventually winter came and the Grasshopper froze to death while starving?

That's not actually how it went, of course; in reality, the Grasshopper was welcomed into the Ants' hill and fed, thereby teaching the Grasshopper the all-important lesson that not planning for the future or working hard will result in some momentary discomfort which will soon be alleviated by well-meaning, hardworking individuals. So why bother working, at all? Or why bother working harder than is necessary to avoid just that momentary discomfort that you'll suffer through until the Ants open the door?

I've never understood that fable.

In any event, Oldest exemplifies the Grasshopper, only she's the Grasshopper if the Grasshopper had a bunch of well-meaning relatives who will inadvertently chip in to help her out, and if the Grasshopper kept stumbling across winning lottery tickets left on the ground, thereby frustrating the Ants' attempts to ever get the message to sink in:

Ants: Listen, Grasshopper, it's all well and good that you've been lucky, but this is the fourth straight winter we've had to save your butt.

Grasshopper [scratching off Instant Win Lottery Tickets]: Hey, I just won $10,000!

Ants: Sigh.

Here's a picture of Mr F at that McDonald's. I'm getting
around to mentioning why we were there. Don't rush me.

Oldest once had a bunch of friends planning on going to Great America, a day that would cost about $40 to go on. She tried to borrow the money from us, but Sweetie and I put our feet down and said no. She hadn't saved, and hadn't been working, and we were not going to loan her money to go have a day at an amusement park because that would send the exact wrong message.

Oldest moped around for a week or so, bugging us over and over, and I finally said I would pay, not loan, her the money she wanted. I said if she helped me in the yard, I'd pay her $10 an hour and she could earn as much as she wanted to get to Great America, and she said, and I quote:

"I don't do yard work."

So I decided tough, and let it be, and Sweetie and I were somewhat gleefully-- don't judge me, you're not a parent -- awaiting the day that Oldest would have to watch her friends go off to Great America while she sat home, learning a lesson, but the very day she said she didn't do yardwork, her aunt called her up and said: "I'm going to be coming to town and I remembered that I hadn't gotten you a birthday present, so I'm going to drop that off for you."

And she gave her the money Oldest needed to go to Great America.

And I trimmed the lilac bushes.

And, I must say, I did it badly. But that's not the point, and that wasn't really Oldest's fault. I'm just terrible at yard work. Those lilacs have never really recovered, and I'm pretty sure that, too, is on the list of reasons my neighbors are putting on the secret petition I suspect they're circulating to force me to move.

Another time, Oldest overdrew her bank account... by $800. That wasn't a typo: EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS. Some bank, somewhere, had given a 19-year-old... no, not just any 19-year-old but the only 19-year-old whose immaturity even approached how immature I was at 19... a debit card, and had then let her, in the span of about two weeks, withdraw not only all the money of hers that was in the account, but $800 of the bank's money, too, with the result being that the bank then had to ask Oldest to pay it back, and when Oldest declined to do so on the grounds that she didn't have any money (that's why she had to use the Bank's, you see), the bank then sent a collection agency after her...

... a collection agency that promptly violated federal law collecting against her...

... by illegally calling me about her debt...

...without, apparently, knowing that I make my living suing debt collectors for violating that law.

The end result of that being that I was able to not only avoid her paying back the debt, but I also got her $2,000 on top of that. I'm surprised she didn't try to run up more debts after that.

(And, before you go chiding me for doing my job, keep in mind that she owed us money, too, and she used the debt collector's money to pay us back. Probably because I had the check sent to me at my law firm.)

That's been the pattern of Oldest's life, and it continued uninterrupted until this last week, when Oldest's car broke down and she was suddenly stuck without a car or the money to fix it, and she did what she always does in those situations: she called us.

Unfortunately for Oldest, Sweetie and I had made a secret vow between ourselves to never ever ever lend the kids money again, especially Oldest. That was a vow we've made before, roughly 1 jillion times, but this time we were serious, unlike the time that I swore I'd never loan Oldest money again only to then loan her $80 to buy a winter coat because I felt bad that she didn't have a winter coat, and then felt worse when Sweetie pointed out that Oldest had a perfectly good winter coat, two, in fact, she just didn't like them.

This time, in fact, not only were we serious, but we were also not in a position to go around lending people money, for anything, because not only did we just learn that we'll have to pay taxes this year instead of getting a refund, but in the exact week we learned that, we also learned that jumpropes don't flush down toilets, and that when someone tries to flush one, anyway, you're going to have to spend a week without use of that toilet while the plumber convinces you to replace it entirely with a new toilet, one he promises "could flush a football," but which, it turns out a week later, can't even flush a tiny plastic frog that one of your twins decided to send on a journey, the result being that the plumber has to make a third trip to your house to unstick the brand-new, football-but-not-frog-flushing toilet, all of which makes it very easy to not loan money to Oldest, because the plumber has all of ours.

That left Oldest scrambling for other sources of car-replacing or new-car-buying income, calling other relatives and repeatedly asking us, anyway, if maybe we could after all give her some money ("Why don't you call our plumber?" I wanted to ask her. "I know he can spare some right now.")

And that left me dreading the phone calls and texts I got from Oldest on my phone as I prepared for what should have been a nice drive home on a pleasant March 1.

Rather than call her back, unarmed, as it were, I called Sweetie to find out what was going on, and I got this, verbatim:

"She wants to talk to you because remember that accident she had where she didn't have insurance and you worked out a deal to set up a payment plan so her license wouldn't be suspended? Well she went to the DMV to find out if she could reinstate her license because she can't get insurance to buy a new car unless she has a valid driver's license, but the DMV said it wasn't just the two tickets you got taken care of for her that were holding up her license it was that she also missed a payment on the payment plan so now her license is suspended and she wants to talk to you about it."

I was quiet for a long time after that, and when Sweetie asked if I was still there, I said:

"I was just thinking about pretending that my phone had lost reception and then enjoying my drive home in peace and quiet."

But that clearly was out of the question. I can't lie to Sweetie, not even when cold pizza and This American Life are waiting for me. But I did say that I would call Oldest when I got home, and gave myself at least a little respite, and by the time I got home and re-talked it over with Sweetie and decided to call Oldest, I had a plan firmly in place:

I would bore her into not asking me for advice.

With that, I got Oldest on the phone and listened to her repeat, almost word for word, what Sweetie had said, and I then launched into a lengthy lecture about how she didn't really need a car, and how she should, instead of going through all this money-borrowing and trouble-causing and stress-inducing (for me) maneuvering to get a car, she should use this as an opportunity to change her life around and start doing something she always wanted to do. I pointed out that she'd never really liked her job and that nothing was keeping her from getting a different, maybe better job that was on a bus line and that she could then attack her problems without borrowing money, and that she could use this time to explore and find out what she really wanted to do.

I really was on a role, and I wish I'd transcribed it, for reasons I'll get to in a minute, but even aside from that reason my speech was a 40-minute thing of beauty, in which I actually said "When you've got no options in life, that's when things really get interesting," a pithy little quote that I explained means that once you think you've got no options you've got to get really creative and also that having no options frees you to do what you really want to do. Oldest, I explained, had no option but to quit her job, because she couldn't get to it anymore, which made this the perfect time to really get out there and find out what jobs she might actually like, and I compared that, rather brilliantly, to what it's like when I get onto a plane, where I've got no option but to relax and read, so I get enjoy the fact that my choices are made for me, and I can just go with the flow and do what I really wanted to do anyway but had never done.

I mentioned the plethora -- I used that word -- of options that she had, including going to school for real, and even managed to work in underwater archaeology, because you knew I would, as an example of something she hadn't even known existed and pointed out that she now knew that it did and that was proof that there were greater things out there than she could imagine if she'd just... go... try them and she could use not having a car and being forced to quit her job as an excuse.

I mentioned how she'd wanted to go to San Francisco, or open her own business, and urged her to start actually living the life she wanted to read, and she assured me that she would and then had to go.

And a little while later, texted me back. Not to thank me, but to say that she'd made up her mind to go apply for a job as a waitress at TGI Friday's, but the bus wouldn't get her there until 8:30 p.m., so could I come over there and give her a ride so she could fill out an application?

All of which is how I ended up not reading the last 12% of The Infinities but instead hopped into the car with Mr F and Mr Bunches in tow, heading over to Oldest's to pick her up so she could chase her dreams by applying for a job as a waitress, something that took less time to do than the drive over to get her, and, afterwards, we were heading back to drop her off when she asked if we could go for ice cream.

"I'll pay," she offered, but as I very much doubted that she had the money to pay, I said that I'd buy but that we were going to go to a McDonald's where they had a playplace, so that the Babies! could get out of the car and have some fun.

And we did have fun -- at least, Mr Bunches and I did. While Mr F (who's not much of a one to climb around in cramped labyrinths that smell of feet and diapers) hung out with Oldest and ate french fries, Mr Bunches and I climbed through the tunnels, heading down the spiral slide, waving and hollering to Oldest and Mr F (and taking their pictures through the windows in the playground) and climbing up to the top where they had not just a jet to sit in but a helicopter, too:

Is it really a helicopter?
Or a manifestation of this?

and while we did that, Oldest sat down below and kept an eye on Mr F, and kept an eye on her ice cream, and no doubt pondered whether she should have taken career advice from a guy who was even at that moment telling her that the helicopter in that photo above looked exactly like the interior of a TIE Fighter from Star Wars.

I, on the other hand, wasn't wondering that at all. Instead, as I clambered around the maybe-TIE fighter jungle gym, I was struck by the thought that maybe, Oldest had again worked the system: What if, I wondered getting free ice cream had been her goal all along, and she'd figured this all out as a way to get me to buy it for her?


UPDATE: I actually wrote this all on Wednesday afternoon, but didn't post it right away. On Wednesday night, I found out from Sweetie that Oldest doesn't intend to actually leave her job at all. So it really was all just a scam to get some free ice cream.

God forbid somebody HECKLE Governor Patsy! (Publicus Proventus)

Why was Wisconsin Governor Patsy so intent on keeping people out of the Capitol yesterday, and going forward? Radio host/sycophant Mark Belling read the party line on his show yesterday, when he pointed out that someone had looked in Governor Patsy's window... reportedly... and that it was entirely possible that during Governor Patsy's budget address someone would heckle him.

That viewpoint was furthered by Governor Patsy's state employee worker, Steven Means -- who obviously is overpaid and lazy and no good at his job, because he's a state employee (consider who you're working for Attorney Means, and what your boss says about you in public, when you decide what cases to press) -- took to a Dane County Courtroom to ask protestors (who wanted the Governor to abide by a court order enforcing Wisconsin's Open Meeting laws). Means asked protestors about what he termed "hostile language" aimed at Governor Patsy, and apparently argued that the Capitol has to be closed because it's noisy when people protest.

Which maybe makes it hard for Governor Patsy to hear what's being said on ethics-violating campaign contributor calls placed directly to his office, I guess.

I will predict this, though: remember when Democrats got death threats over health care reform, and a few Republicans lied and said "Hey, we did, too," and remember when, in the aftermath of the Giffords shooting in Arizona, some Republicans including GOP Hypocrite Paul Ryan made up death threats on them, too?

We are going to see Governor Patsy make up a death threat; he's going to claim he got a death threat. I'd bet anything.

Monday, February 28, 2011

In the end, the route I took to the answer could be described as... (Cool Things I Never Learned In School)

Why are things described as "byzantine," and what does that really mean?

Up until about two weeks ago, I'd never really given any thought to the word byzantine, even though I used it from time to time.

Using words without really knowing what they mean is how you get a reputation for being smart: most people are to impressed/embarrassed to ask you what it means or question how you're using the word, so if you're even close, you get a reputation for being very wise, at least until someone says "what does that mean?"

And, really, things being byzantine didn't come up all that often, as you'd imagine, but then I listened to an episode of This American Life in which Ira Glass talked to (or about, it's hard to tell on that show) a guy who specialized in underwater Byzantine archaeology.

Honestly: a thing that you wouldn't imagine existed, a thing so specific that you couldn't even dream it up, is a guy's whole career, a career that began when he (for some reason) went scuba diving and found what archaeologists know to be a sunken ship from the Byzantine Empire and what the rest of us would assume to be "a bunch of junk on the ocean floor" and not even all that much junk, either: just some scraps of wood that were lucky (?) enough to be buried under the sediment before they decomposed or were eaten by starfish or something.

This guy -- these guys, actually, Fred van Doorninck and George Bass -- began recreating this Byzantine ship by pinning parts of it to the ocean floor using sharpened bicycle spokes, on repeated scuba diving trips, until they were able to reconstruct the ship entirely, and then were able to actually reconstruct it the right way, after an acquaintance who actually knew something about boats pointed out to them that their first effort at recreating the boat was wrong and the boat wouldn't actually sail.

(Which really says something about how archaeologists are putting together dinosaur bones and the like, doesn't it? Completely aside from the fact that they're making up dinosaurs based on scraps of bone, two archaeologists put together what they thought was a boat, but, being unfamiliar with boats, built it wrong, so are we absolutely sure that T. Rex looked like a T.Rex?)

Anyway, aside from thinking that it was amazing that there could be such a thing as underwater archaeology, and thinking it was amazing that as a kid who at one point wanted to be an oceanographer and at another point wanted to be an archaeologist...

... my mom tried to talk me out of the latter by pointing out that it wasn't like "Indiana Jones" career, but who says it couldn't be?...

... that as such a kid, I never knew that "underwater archaeology" existed, and why not? When kids are going to grade school and high school and trying to imagine what they might be in the future, why is nobody telling them there's an Institute of Nautical Archaeology that they might want to consider?

It might have ended there, but for the fact that then I heard, on Pandora, a new song from The New Pornographers (The Best Rock Band That Isn't The Beatles, U2, or The White Stripes), the song being Sweet Talk Sweet Talk:

Which to you is just the song behind the latest Kindle ad, but to me set off a chain reaction that resulted in me going to read stuff, because I heard that song the same day I listened to This American Life, and, if you listened closely to it, you'll realize (like I did) that the first verse is:

A mistake on the part of nature, You're so fabled, so fair, just sit anywhere, I've pencil-sketched the scene, It's feeling byzantine.

And byzantine is mentioned lots in that song, which has the usual obscure New Pornographers lyrics that make me feel like it must be nonsense, something I have to believe because otherwise I'd feel like I'm stupid, and I hate feeling stupid.

Which all led me to wonder what, really, does byzantine mean and why do we use it to mean complicated or labyrinthine?

So I read up on the Byzantine Empire -- not books about it, but articles about it -- and learned that the Byzantine Empire was an offshoot of the original Roman Empire, also called the Eastern Roman Empire, and that it began, more or less, around the time of Justinian, who also helped codify the Roman laws and tried to incorporate them with Christianity...

... cue the political reference: So we have Justinian to blame for the fact that in 2010 we elected people who feel that God's okay with Britney Spears marrying on a drunken whim but not okay with two men promising to love each other forever...

...and that after that the Empire thrived, more or less (can you thrive, "more or less"?) for about 1000 years, never giving up the ambition of retaking the Western Roman Empire even though for a period of time there was no Western Roman Empire, because Italy had fallen into ruin, Rome largely abandoned, and was overrun by "Lombards," which is German (I guess) for longbeards, but also never actually retaking the West, either.

The Byzantine Empire did do some pretty amazing sounding things, like defeating some people called the Ostrogoths, and conquering North Africa, and as far as I can tell it was not the Ottoman Empire, because it lost territory during the "Byzantine-Ottoman" wars, as well.

All of which does not tell me why Byzantine = complicated.

So I kept looking, and came across one of those anonymous web pages where people with no accreditation give answers to questions, and this one talked about how "byzantine" as "complicated" arose from the way Byzantine generals solved their problems.

I then searched for stuff related to that, and came across a Wikipedia page entitled "Byzantine fault tolerance" which began with a reference to the "Byzantine Generals Problem," which itself is a kind of logic problem along the lines of that one about everyone on an island being a liar; it's apparently used to help solve programming problems and has to do with how "loyal" generals know that the command they're receiving is a valid one.

Which then led me to investigate how the Byzantine Armies were organized, and I found that they're amazingly complicated: they were set up along "themes," or thema, with generals holding civilian and military power and judges holding judicial power, and some people getting land grants to support their troops. When the large size of these "themes" led to revolts, the structure was complicated further, setting up levels and levels of divisions and groupings of men.

Scholars then say that the weakening of the themes -- and resultant complication -- led to the eventual demise of the Byzantine Emperor (or greatly contributed to it.)

Which all means that byzantine, properly understood, doesn't just mean complicated, it means complicated for specific reasons that undermine its effectiveness.

If that seems like a lot of work to understand a song from The New Pornographers, keep this in mind: I still don't understand it. But it is catchy.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bad Republicans, 1: Maybe she thought health care was a right? (Publicus Proventus)

We know that Republicans will let you die in the street if you think differently than they do, so why should they balk at beating up women who disagree with them? That's obviously the rationalization Republican Scott Bundgaard was engaging in when he ripped his girlfriend out of the car they were riding in and tried to throw her onto the highway.

Bundgaard (shown at right, with a woman he hasn't punched yet) denies doing anything wrong, characterizing a small mark on his face as a "bruise" and denying that pulling a woman out of the car and injuring her is domestic violence -- but a party that wants to redefine rape to allow men to have nonconsensual sex with drugged or incapacitated women shouldn't be expected to understand the niceties of gender relations, should they?